The Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) board voted 5-2 on November 9 to give preliminary approval to issuing up to $13.5 million in conduit revenue bonds for the renovation of Higher Ground Academy, 1381 Marshall Ave.

Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang cast the sole negative votes. They have been pushing for the city’s planning department to look more closely at charter school financing. One concern is that charter schools take property off of the city’s tax rolls.

The HRA is expected to take final action on the issue on December 14. No one spoke at the November 9 public hearing on the bonds.

The bonds would be for the Higher Ground Building Company, a nonprofit corporation affiliated with the K-12 charter school. Higher Ground Academy was founded by the late Bill Wilson and has operated since 1999 at 1381 Marshall Ave. It added an upper school at 1471 Brewster St. in 2018. It currently enrolls approximately 1,080 students at both locations. The school’s authorizer is Osprey Wilds, a private, nonprofit, environmental learning and retreat center.

Higher Ground has sought new space for several years. The HRA in 2018 issued $14.33 million in bonds for the school to expand to 1471 Brewster St., the former home of Metro Deaf School. The second site serves students in grades 7-12.

In 1999 the HRA issued bonds to finance Higher Grounds’ original facility. Additional improvements were financed through HRA-issued bonds in 2004 and 2009. In 2013, the HRA issued $13.48 million in bonds for Higher Ground that refinanced all prior bonds and financed equipment purchases for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) labs to enhance academic programs. The current outstanding balance of the 2013 bonds is $10 million.

Higher Ground has sought new space for several years. The HRA in 2018 issued $14.33 million in bonds for the school to expand to 1471 Brewster St., the former home of Metro Deaf School. The second site serves students in grades 7-12.

 

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The latest request for $13.5 million would allow for refinancing of the 2013 bonds and paying for interior renovations. Planned improvements would provide more office space, enhance security, and relocate the cafeteria and convert that space for physical and recreational activities.

Higher Ground students currently travel to the Oxford Community Center/Jimmy Lee Recreation Center for recreation. Enrollment is expected to increase modestly to 1,175 within the next five years.

— Jane McClure

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